A Public Service Announcement: Cut Your Commute

Posted by | May 30, 2011 10:14 | Filed under: Top Stories

by Stuart Shapiro

Because I care about you, dear readers, I present you with the following research results.  In the wake of a recent study that shows that divorce rates are higher for those who spend more time commuting to work, Annie Lowery at Slate has done a wonderful review of all of the other work that shows the costs of commuting.

So, in summary: We hate commuting. It correlates with an increased risk of obesity, divorce, neck pain, stress, worry, and sleeplessness. It makes us eat worse and exercise less. Yet, we keep on doing it.

Indeed, average one-way commuting time has steadily crept up over the course of the past five decades, and now sits at 24 minutes (although we routinely under-report the time it really takes us to get to work). About one in six workers commutes for more than 45 minutes, each way. And about 3.5 million Americans commute a whopping 90 minutes each way—the so-called “extreme commuters,” whose number has doubled since 1990, according to the Census Bureau. They collectively spend 164 billion minutes per year shuttling to and from work.

Those who oppose government intervention often base much of their argument on the proposition that people know what is best for themselves.  However, people continue to yearn for bigger houses and, therefore, longer commutes, despite convincing efforts that it will make them less happy.  Research in behavioral economics over the past few decades has convincingly shown the problems with assuming that people will act in their own best interest.  And while we shouldn’t use that to justify government making all decisions for us, it is enough to justify government giving us a Nudge in the right direction.

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Copyright 2011 Liberaland
By: Stuart Shapiro

Stuart is a professor and the Director of the Public Policy
program at the Bloustein School of Planning and Public Policy at Rutgers
University. He teaches economics and cost-benefit analysis and studies
regulation in the United States at both the federal and state levels.
Prior to coming to Rutgers, Stuart worked for five years at the Office
of Management and Budget in Washington under Presidents Clinton and
George W. Bush.

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